Boss admits Blues in a battle to stay in top four

Beleaguered Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez admitted his team face a gruelling battle to hold on to a place in the top four of the Premier League after a dispiriting performance in a 2-0 defeat at Manchester City.

Frank Lampard saw a second-half penalty saved by Joe Hart before goals from Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez left Chelsea seven points behind second-placed City. Having spurned the chance to move to within a point of Roberto Mancini’s side, Chelsea are now just a point above Tottenham, in action at West Ham tonight, and two clear of fifth-placed Arsenal.

“Obviously we knew we were close to City and wanted to be even closer,” said Benitez. “But we didn’t do it. We have to try to carry on winning and hopefully, if City can lose some points, we will get closer. But, if not, we have to do our job because Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton are all close. We’re in a position where we have to fight for the top four.”

However, despite still being involved in both the FA Cup and Europa League, the season is in danger of unravelling for Benitez who will see his team drop to fourth tonight should Spurs win their game in hand. Worse still, Benitez admits he is facing a challenge to juggle his resources in order to maintain interest on three fronts.

“We knew it could be like this,” he said. “We changed five players from [the last game against] Sparta Prague. If we have to change players, we will do it.

“It is a question of managing the squad and using fresh legs every game. We have to show our quality in all the competitions.”

City manager Roberto Mancini has problems of his own, trailing league leaders Manchester United by a dozen points but the Italian, who opened the press conference by paying tribute to the outgoing Pope Benedict XVI, insists his team can still push their local rivals.

“For us it’s not important to look at the table, only to continue to work like today, play well and improve,” he said. “And then maybe look at the table in one month or 40 days.

“Maybe 15 points is too many but I think football is finished when it’s finished, the last minute of the last game. If we arrive with four games to go and United are 12 points ahead, it’s finished. But I think that our job is to continue to work.”

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